INDIANAPOLIS — Three dribbles, 55 ft and among the greatest shots in NCAA tournament and Final Four history.
UCLA’s Johnny Juzang scored with 3.3 seconds left to tie the score, and Gonzaga coach Mark Few elected not to call a timeout. Bulldogs forward Corey Kispert grabbed the ball from the net, whilst Jalen Suggs started to curl toward the ball to catch it on the run.
Kispert threw the ball in bounds to Suggs, who shot three dribbles and pulled up from about 40 ft to bank in a buzzer-beating 3 to give Gonzaga a 93-90 overtime win over the 11-seed Bruins on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium, advancing the Bulldogs to Monday’s national championship match against Baylor.
“I have always wanted to run up on the table like Kobe and D-Wade and go like that, and that’s the very first thing I did,” said Suggs, Gonzaga’s star shield. “Man, that’s something which you practice in your own mini-hoop as a child or at the gym just messing around. And to be able to do that, it is crazy.”
The Zags’ pursuit to get an unbeaten national championship season survived, only barely.
“It helps when you have a magical, special man like Jalen,” Few said.
There were 19 lead changes, along with the biggest lead for either team was Gonzaga’s seven-point border from the second half.
The Bulldogs had barely been tested all season, with 29 of the 30 wins entering Saturday coming by double digits. It had been clear from the outset that wouldn’t be the case in the national semifinals.
UCLA paired Gonzaga basket for basket in the first half, even taking a six-point lead with 4 minutes, 55 seconds remaining until halftime. Bruins coach Mick Cronin once again had a masterclass in game preparation, restricting Gonzaga’s transition opportunities and refusing to push the ball fast breaks, even when the Bruins could have had an advantage. They ran the shot clock down nearly every possession and made tough shots throughout the night.
Ahead of his buzzer shot, Suggs had already made a case for its play of the championship. Rather than a two-point deficit, Gonzaga needed a two-point lead.
“I could not give him a free bucket,” Suggs said of Riley. I moved into the corner — it was hard to do it. I got it. I watched Drew running, and Tyger Campbell is quickly. I wanted to throw it. It seemed wide open. And then as soon as I let it go from my hands, he had like another equipment. It made it much closer than I wanted it to be. I knew Coach was a little pissed that I made the pass, but it got through.”
“He is a hell of a participant. I mean, he is electrical,” Few said of Suggs. “Especially when you get him out in transition. He’s confident enough. And to create that pass to Timme. As soon as I saw him sizing it up, I wasn’t believing it was likely to be among his best choices he’s ever needed. But he has got a knack for just fitting things into little windows.”
Juzang was again outstanding for UCLA, ongoing the stellar stretch he has had all NCAA tournament. He had been unguardable at times, finishing with 29 points, the fourth time at the championship he’s scored at least 23 points. But rather than a fifth foul on Timme, it was a fee on Juzang and five minutes to perform.
“[Timme is] our best charge-taker by far. I meanI don’t know how I felt about this, with four fouls,” Few said. “But he took it, God bless himand it was a huge play.”
Timme was exceptional in the extra period, scoring Gonzaga’s first six points to provide the Bulldogs a breathing room. But since it did all match, UCLA kept fighting and had possession following a missed 3 by Kispert with 22 seconds left.
Gonzaga had one timeout remaining, but Few was not going to utilize it. Suggs made one of the greatest shots in NCAA championship history and delivered the Zags to Monday night’s title match.
“I knew we had been good because it had been in Jalen’s palms,” Few said. “He creates shots. He’s got that magical setting. He makes them in practice all the time. It has been crazy this year how many he’s made in practice, last-second shots. I felt pretty good. I was staring at this. And I said,’It’s in.’ Plus it had been.”
Suggs, a former high school football star, stated his best all-time sports moment entering college was a high school football championship his senior season. He has a new one now.
“It skyrockets above that,” said Suggs, who could barely contain his joy from the postgame news conference. “I meanit was nuts. And I still can’t speak. I have so many things going on in my head. I just can’t believe that happened. I really don’t think that it’s going to hit me until I wake up tomorrow. Tonight was unique.
“When dreams begin to become realities and you are able to experience those things, it is unique,” he later added. “And those are things you have got to cherish. You’re never going to get another moment in this way. You’ll never have the ability to relive this.”
So now on Monday, we now get the match college basketball has wanted since the season started, the match we were refused in early December due to COVID-19: Gonzaga vs. Baylor.
It’ll be the first time since 2005 the very best two clubs on the NCAA championship’s 1-68 seed listing will face each other at the national championship game.
“I think now they are back playing the way they were before this year,” Few said. “And so well coached. Stepping up, making shots. Playing excellent defense. … We’ve got to get ready for a terrific Baylor team. And we’re going to have to play good.”
Forty minutes to perfection and a spot in history.